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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Next Battle Over Intelligent Design

After a court ruled that intelligent design theory could not be taught in science class, ID advocates have predictably turned to the philosophy curriculum.  Given how overtly theological the proposed course is, I expect that it will be ruled unconstitutional:

An initial course description . . . said "the class will take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid. The class will discuss intelligent design as an alternative response to evolution. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions."

However, I do imagine that someone could design a course that passes constitutional muster that explores the cultural and philosophical background and implications of judeo-christian belief.

Posted by Hillel Levin on January 11, 2006 at 10:27 AM in Hillel Levin | Permalink

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The New York Times article on the case also noted the following, which if true will certainly be bad facts for the proponents of ID:

In their suit, the parents said the syllabus originally listed 24 videos to be shown to students, with 23 "produced or distributed by religious organizations and assume a pro-creationist, anti-evolution stance." They said the syllabus listed two evolution experts who would speak to the class. One was a local parent and scientist who said he had already refused the speaking invitation and was now suing the district; the other was Francis H. C. Crick, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, who died in 2004.
(http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/11/national/11design.html)

I must admit that as a First Amendment junkie and a relative liberal, I'm deeply torn about teaching the "cultural and philosophical background and implications of judeo-christian belief" or the Bible (pick your favorite version) in public schools. On the one hand, the slope is so slippery I'm not sure even the surest-footed teacher could stand on it. On the other, though, it seems to me to be borderline impossible to teach western civilization, philosophy or literature without teaching the Bible, which is the fundamental basis for so much of it.

There is also the opposite concern, of course; many religious parents won't want the Bible taught as literature, or the rules of the judeo-christian faith(s) dismissed as a mere historical legal code.

Perhaps the answer is to continue teaching it at the collegiate level, where there is less concern about coercion, either for religion or against it. However, this seems to me to be a dodge. If the religions are actually critical to the development of western law, philosophy, society and literature, it seems to me that we have to acknowledge them in any fundamentally sound public education.

Any thoughts on how to teach the judeo-christian culture without teaching the religion?

Posted by: Paul | Jan 11, 2006 2:09:59 PM

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